That E-Book Is Not a Cat! 10 Tips About Digital Books

If you love to read and, like so many Americans, have downloaded an ebook onto a tablet or Amazon Kindle, you'll be heartened to hear that the news out of New York's publishing industry is good for readers of fiction and nonfiction alike.

I took a three-day foray into the belly of the electronic publishing beast, attending the Digital Book World (DBW) Conference 2015. I emerged with a whole new vocabulary ("flowable") and some top line news for readers, whether your favorite genre is romance, sci-fi, historical fiction, crafting or armchair travel.

Ten Things to Know About E-Books in 2015

1. Physical books are NOT disappearing! Despite recent hysteria that "print is dead" and concerns that digital books would obliterate physical books, researchers and publishers are finding that Americans have a robust appetite for old-fashioned books -- especially hefty hardcover books that you can hold between your hands. Despite brutal competition from Amazon and other quarters, the publishing industry is continuing to crank out physical books. Why? Because consumers are buying them.

2. Hold onto any books you own that have been actually signed by actual authors, anyway. No question, more books are going to be digitally produced and designed to be read online, on tablets and phones. And while technology is introducing many amazing changes to the book lovers' universe, having your ebook signed digitally with the author's electronic signature on your mobile just won't seem quite the same as an authentic hand-scrawled signature in hard copy. If you own a book signed by your favorite author, don't throw it away during spring cleaning.

3. Take a leap of imagination. Your mobile phone is not really a phone. It's a book! Re-imagine your phone; re-imagine it as a portable book. Soon enough we will be all using our mobile phones for reading books.

4. Ebooks will continue to shape-shift. For both better and for worse, the communications revolution and advances in digital technology have been profoundly disruptive to the tradition-bound publishing industry. In response, publishers are experimenting with such basics as the pricing and formatting of digital books.

5. Technology, not magic. E-reading isn't (yet) seamless. The technological underpinning of electronic publishing is evolving. As of 2015, you can't yet do this: while sitting on an airplane, read your book to page 59 on your Kindle, and later, while waiting for a taxicab after landing, pick up at page 60 on your mobile phone. But is there demand for seamless reading? Yes, say the experts. "People increasingly want to read wherever they are, "said Kristen Fassler of Random House at the DBW meeting. "That includes millennials and as well as seniors," she added.

6. Like playlists and bucket lists, self-curated ebook reading lists are in. Curate your own library of digital books to read on your phone or tablet. Not sure what to read? Get some informed suggestions. For instance, lest you get overwhelmed by the 40 million or so titles to choose from that are available on Scribd , the popular digital bookseller, they'll will recommend books "just for you."

7. Subscriptions to ebooks, anyone? The start-up Oyster, like Scribd, is a leading subscription-based online service for e-readers, and dubbed "the prettiest of the digital e-book subscriptions" by The New York Times. Looking ahead, the ebook subscription model could make it easy for readers with specific interests to join communities of like-minded hobbyists and enthusiasts. (An elite model may also be coming down the pike, in the form of an ebook subscription program that confers a certain set of benefits, not to mention prestige. "People will pay more for something that's curated and exclusive," said entrepreneur Seth Godin at the mid-January digital book conference.)

8. Audio is the hidden hip. Audio books may seem old-fashioned, something you'd check out of the library for Aunt Millie while she's recovering from a hip replacement. But everyone's wearing ear buds. Listening is another way to "read" a book while commuting or traveling. According to Michele Cobb, president of the Audio Publishers Association, the user of audio books are "frequent book readers... well educated, have higher incomes than non-listeners, tend to be over 35 years of age, and are attuned to book trends through reviews and bestseller lists." Aunt Millie, indeed.

9. OK, that ebook is not a cat...but is it a book? Some eBooks may look more like games or movies than "books." For instance, you can choose to either "read" or "experience" a 2015 Digital Book Award* winner, We Are Angry.

10. Ebooks may get a little shorter. Authors of digital books might opt to produce a little less text, but add more photos, links to additional information, short videos and other digital bells and whistles. And, some are being marketed chapter by chapter, to enhance profit. As every good pizza man in New York knows, you can slice the pie and sell individual pieces. Publishers are looking for ways to make money, so some books may be marketed as a bundle of individual chapters, each of which comes with its own price tag.

And, a few more tips:

  • For fans, reading can become a global online party. It's easy to follow your favorite authors online, and connect with other readers interested in the same books. English is the dominant global language, the new lingua franca, and readers from sub-Saharan Africa to Singapore can find each other around a common interest in a book or author. "The Internet enables a non-stop conversation among fans and their vocal cheerleaders, "says McIlroy. "The most dedicated fans form a core group that will gobble up every new book, film adaptation and author memento sent their way." If you are familiar with such sites as Goodreads, you already know this.
  • Maybe you can get something (a chapter) for nothing. Look for deals. You may be able to get a chapter of a digital or ebook for free, when it's being heavily marketed. Keep your eye peeled before shelling out to buy the whole book.
  • Explore new authors; they are pouring into the fray. More and more writers are discovering the thrills of feeling, well, published. (A lucky few even make a little money in the process.) Authors of digital books come from all writerly walks of life. Established authors who've already proven they have the chops to finish a book, and who have been published by major publishing houses, are trying out indie publishing. So are folks who never dreamed they could break into publishing, like the retired accountant who decides to see if he "has a novel in him." Increasing numbers of first-time writers are bypassing the angst-ridden process of finding a traditional publisher, and skipping to the head of the line by publishing online. New voices are being discovered by readers.
  • So while competition is surely squeezing publishing, the prophets of cultural doom can give it a rest, at least for awhile regarding the demise of books. With increased opportunity for reading here, there and everywhere, it wouldn't be surprising if, in spite of the competition for eyeballs from all kinds of social media, Americans started reading more books, especially online.